Sunday, September 18, 2022

Chomsky on consciousness


On the podcast Mind Chat, philosophers Philip Goff and Keith Frankish discuss the philosophical problem of consciousness with Noam Chomsky.  Goff is a proponent of panpsychism and Frankish of illusionism, where Goff characterizes these, respectively, as the view that consciousness is everywhere and the view that consciousness is nowhere.  (This might be a bit of an overstatement in the case of Frankish’s position, given what he says during the podcast.)  Chomsky’s own position is not easy to capture in a simple label, but I think that it can, to a first approximation, be described as a kind of modest naturalism.  The discussion is very interesting, and what follows is a summary with some comments of my own.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Perfect world disorder (sans paywall)


You can now read my recent Postliberal Order essay “Perfect World Disorder” without a subscription.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Talking about All One in Christ

Some recent interviews about my book All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory:  A print interview conducted by Carl Olson appears today at Catholic World Report.  A few days ago I did a radio interview about the book for The Drew Mariani Show.  And the book was one of the topics covered in my recent interview for Thomas Mirus’s Catholic Culture podcast.

 

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Perfect world disorder


My essay “Perfect World Disorder” appears today at The Postliberal Order.  You can read it here (though a subscription is required in order to read the whole thing).  Good time to subscribe!

Monday, September 5, 2022

Libertarianism, jazz, and Critical Race Theory

I was recently interviewed by Thomas Mirus for the Catholic Culture podcast.  The discussion was pretty wide ranging, covering topics as diverse as libertarianism, the aesthetics of the music of Thelonious Monk, and Critical Race Theory.  You can watch the interview at YouTube or at the Catholic Culture website.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Individualism and socialism versus the family

Here’s another unpublished lecture the text of which I’ve posted at my main website.  The title is “Socialism versus the Family,” and I presented it at the Heritage Foundation back in February of 2019.  The talk begins by explaining the economics and ethos of socialism, and how socialism is related to liberalism.  It then explains the nature of the family, emphasizing the features recognized by natural law theorists and evolutionary psychology alike.  Finally it shows how egalitarian socialism is inherently incompatible with the family, but also how the liberal individualism embraced by too many modern conservatives is precisely what paved the way for the egalitarian assault on the family.  You can watch the video of the lecture here.

Friday, August 26, 2022

What is classical theism?

My essay “What is Classical Theism?” is among those that appear in the volume Classical Theism: New Essays on the Metaphysics of God, edited by Jonathan Fuqua and Robert C. Koons and forthcoming from Routledge. Follow the link to check out its excellent roster of contributors and range of topics.

Plato on democracy and tyranny

Over at Twitter, I posted a long thread of passages from Plato’s Republic setting out his account of how a democratic society’s fixation on liberty and equality yields the tyrannical soul.  You can read the thread here.  The relevance to the current situation in the West will be obvious, but it is a theme I explored in an American Mind article from a couple of years ago.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Countering disinformation about Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has over the last two years been a topic of enormous controversy.  But what is it, exactly?  Chapter 4 of my book All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory is devoted to answering that question at length.  I go on in chapters 5, 6, and 7 to spell out the many philosophical, social scientific, and theological problems with the view.  (As this breadth of issues indicates, there is much in the book that will be of interest and value to non-Catholics.)  But chapter 4 is entirely expository, and quotes extensively from CRT writers themselves, so that there can be no mistake about how extreme and dangerous are the views that the subsequent chapters go on to criticize.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Aquinas on St. Paul’s correction of St. Peter

A pope speaks ex cathedra when he presents some teaching in a formal and definitive manner that is intended infallibly to settle debate about it once and for all.  This is an exercise of what is called the “extraordinary magisterium,” and Catholics are obligated to give such declarations their unreserved assent.  The ordinary magisterium of the Church can also teach infallibly under certain circumstances (which I have discussed elsewhere), and here too such teaching is owed unreserved assent.  Even when the pope or the Church teach about a matter of faith or morals in a manner that is not infallible, Catholics normally owe such teaching what is called “religious assent,” an adherence that is not absolute but nevertheless firm.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

All One in Christ

My new book All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory is out this month from Ignatius Press.  If you are someone who prefers to order directly from the publisher, you can now do so.  You can also order via Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  In September, a German translation of the book will be published by Editiones Scholasticae.

Here’s the table of contents:

1. Church Teaching against Racism

2. Late Scholastics and Early Modern Popes against Slavery

3. The Rights and Duties of Nations and Immigrants

4. What is Critical Race Theory?

5. Philosophical Problems with Critical Race Theory

6. Social Scientific Objections to Critical Race Theory

7. Catholicism versus Critical Race Theory

Friday, August 5, 2022

Benedict contra Benevacantism

I’ve been reading the second volume of Peter Seewald’s Benedict XVI: A Life.  There is much of interest in it, including a new interview with Benedict at the very end.  Some of what he says is relevant to the controversy over Benevacantism (also called “Beneplenism” and the “Benedict is pope (BiP)” thesis), which holds that Benedict never validly resigned and that Francis is an antipope.  I’ve addressed this topic a couple of times before and the debate is, in my view, essentially played out.  But since a small but significant number of Catholics remain attracted to this foolish thesis, it seems worthwhile calling attention to how Benedict’s remarks throw further cold water on it.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Confucian hylemorphism

The Neo-Confucian Chinese philosopher Zhu Xi or Chu Hsi (1130-1200) famously posited two metaphysical principles often compared to Aristotle’s notions of form and matter.  James Dominic Rooney defends the interpretation of Zhu Xi as a hylemorphist in his new book Material Objects in Confucian and Aristotelian Metaphysics.  Into the bargain, he does so in conversation with contemporary analytic metaphysics and neo-Aristotelian philosophy.  It’s an excellent and important book.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Mullins strikes out

My new Philosophy Compass article “The Neo-Classical Challenge to Classical Theism” responds to several criticisms of classical theism and the doctrine of divine simplicity that have been raised by Ryan Mullins.  At Joseph Schmid’s Majesty of Reason blog, Mullins has replied to the article.  What follows is a rejoinder. 

Mullins’ reply can be found in the first part of the post (titled “Mullins Strikes Back”).  The second part is a reply by Schmid.  Because my article was directed at Mullins rather than Schmid, and because Mullins’ reply (and this rejoinder of mine) are already quite long as it is, I am in the present post going to confine my attention to Mullins’ remarks.  I intend no disrespect to Schmid.  But I have been meaning anyway to write up a reply to his recent article on my Neo-Platonic argument for God’s existence (to which he refers in this latest piece).  So I will put off commenting on Schmid until I am able to get to that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The neo-classical challenge to classical theism

My article “The Neo-Classical Challenge to Classical Theism” has just been published at Philosophy Compass.  The article is a response to the critique of divine simplicity and other aspects of classical theism developed by self-described “neo-classical” theists like Ryan Mullins. Here’s the abstract: The classical theist tradition represented by thinkers like Anselm and Aquinas predicates several remarkable attributes of God, most notably simplicity or lack of parts of any kind.  Neo-classical theists have recently developed several lines of criticism of these attributes.  But these criticisms are not effective against the historically most influential way of spelling out classical theism, which is Thomism.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Goff’s gaffes


Philip Goff has kindly replied to my recent post criticizing the panpsychism he defends in his book Galileo’s Error and elsewhere.  Goff begins by reminding the reader that he and I agree that the mathematized conception of nature that Galileo and his successors introduced into modern physics does not capture all there is to the material world.  But beyond that we differ profoundly.  Goff writes:

I agree with Galileo (ironic, given the title of my book) that the qualities aren’t really out there in the world but exist only in consciousness. So I don’t think we need to account for the redness of the rose any more than we need to account for the Loch Ness monster (neither exist!); but we do need to account for the redness in my experience. Following Russell and Eddington I do this by incorporating the qualities of experience into the intrinsic nature of matter, ultimately leading me to a panpsychist theory of reality.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Cooperation with sins against prudence and chastity

Here’s another unpublished talk which I’ve posted at my main website.  It’s titled “Cooperation with Sins against Prudence and Chastity,” and I presented it at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. in March of 2018, and at Blackfriars Hall at the University of Oxford in January of 2019.  The lecture discusses Aquinas’s account of the nature of prudence or practical wisdom, and of sexual immorality as more corrosive of prudence than any other sin.  It then applies this account to a critique of the pastoral advice given by some churchmen in the wake of Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia.  That advice, I argue, amounts to cooperation with sins against chastity, and against prudence more generally.  You can listen to an audio version of the lecture here.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Problems for Goff’s panpsychism


Panpsychism is the view that conscious awareness pervades the physical world, down to the level of basic particles.  In recent years, philosopher Philip Goff has become an influential proponent of the view, defending it in his books Consciousness and Fundamental Reality and Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness.  He builds on ideas developed by contemporary philosophers like David Chalmers and Galen Strawson, who in turn were influenced by early twentieth-century thinkers like Bertrand Russell and Arthur Eddington (though Russell, it should be noted, was not himself a panpsychist).

Monday, June 27, 2022

Aristotle on the middle class

On CNN the other day, liberal commentator Van Jones complained that the Democrats are “becoming a party of the very high and the very low” ends of the economic spectrum, and do not appeal to those in the vast middle, including the working class.  He notes that the “very well-educated and very well-off” segment of the party talks in a way that sounds “bizarre” to ordinary people, citing as examples the use of terms like “Latinx” and “BIPOC.”  He could easily have added others, such as “cisgender,” “whiteness,” “intersectionality,” “heteronormativity,” “the carceral state,” and on and on.  To the average person, the commentators and activists who use such jargon – insistently, humorlessly, and as if everyone does or ought to agree – sound like cult members in need of deprogramming, and certainly of electoral defeat.  (I would also note that having a college degree and being facile with trendy political theory does not suffice to make one “very well-educated,” but let that pass.)

Sunday, June 19, 2022

What is conscience and when should we follow it?

I plan to post some unpublished material that’s been accumulating over the years, over at my main website.  First up is a lecture on the theme “What is Conscience and When Should We Follow It?” which I’ve given a couple of times but has never seen print.  Is conscience a kind of emotion?  A kind of perceptual faculty or “moral sense”?  An operation of the intellect?  Or some sui generis faculty?  When are we obligated to follow conscience?  What is a lax conscience?  A scrupulous conscience?  A doubtful conscience?  What does the Catholic Church teach about these matters?  These issues and related ones are addressed in the talk.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Economic and linguistic inflation

F. A. Hayek’s classic paper “The Use of Knowledge in Society” famously argued that prices generated in a market economy function to transmit information that economic actors could not otherwise gather or make efficient use of.  For example, the price of an orange will reflect a wide variety of factors – an increase in demand for orange juice in one part of the country, a smaller orange crop than usual in another part, changes in transportation costs, and so on – that no one person has knowledge of.  Individual economic actors need only adjust their behavior in light of price changes (economizing, investing in an orange juice company, or whatever their particular circumstances make rational) in order to ensure that resources are used efficiently, without any central planner having to direct them.

Friday, June 10, 2022

The New Apologetics

I contributed an essay on “New Challenges to Natural Theology” to Matthew Nelson’s new Word on Fire anthology The New Apologetics.  It’s got a large and excellent lineup of philosophers, theologians, and others.  You can find the table of contents and other information about the book here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

COMING SOON: All One in Christ

My new book All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory will be out this August from Ignatius Press.  Some information about the book, including advance reviews, can be found at the Amazon link.  Here’s the table of contents:

1. Church Teaching against Racism

2. Late Scholastics and Early Modern Popes against Slavery

3. The Rights and Duties of Nations and Immigrants

4. What is Critical Race Theory?

5. Philosophical Problems with Critical Race Theory

6. Social Scientific Objections to Critical Race Theory

7. Catholicism versus Critical Race Theory

Monday, June 6, 2022

Anti-reductionism in Nyāya-Vaiśesika atomism

Atomism takes all material objects to be composed of basic particles that are not themselves breakable into further components.  In Western philosophy, the idea goes back to the Pre-Socratics Leucippus and Democritus, and was revived in the early modern period by thinkers like Pierre Gassendi.  The general spirit of atomism survived in schools of thought that abandoned the idea that there is a level of strictly unbreakable particles, such as Boyle and Locke’s corpuscularianism.  Its present-day successor is physicalism, but here too there have been further modifications to the basic ancient idea.  For example, non-reductive brands of physicalism allow that there are facts about at least some everyday objects that cannot be captured in a description of micro-level particles.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Indeterminacy and Borges’ infinite library

Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel” (from his collection Labyrinths) famously describes an infinite library, comprising books which together represent every possible combination of characters in the alphabet in which they are written.  Most of the books are gibberish, just as, if you emptied a bag of Scrabble letters onto the floor and looked at the patterns that resulted, almost none of what you’d see would count as a genuine word or sentence.  But because every possible combination is there, many intelligible books are there too.  In fact, every possible such book is there, so that the library contains all knowledge, every truth there is about everything.  For any of these truths, though, the trick is to find it somewhere in this infinite, bewildering Babel.

Monday, May 23, 2022

The hollow universe of modern physics

To say that the material world alone exists is not terribly informative unless we have some account of what matter is.  Those who are most tempted to materialism are also inclined to answer that matter is whatever physics says it is.  The trouble with that is that physics tells us less than meets the eye about the nature of matter.  As Poincaré, Duhem, Russell, Eddington, and other late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century philosophers and scientists were keen to emphasize, what physics gives us is the abstract mathematical structure of the material world, but not the entire nature of the concrete entities that have that structure.  It no more captures all of physical reality than a blueprint captures everything there is to a house.  This is, of course, a drum I’ve long banged on (for example, in Aristotle’s Revenge).

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Nietzsche and Christ on suffering

Over and over we are taught in scripture and tradition that suffering is the lot not only of mankind in general, but of the Christian in particular.  Christ, the “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), is our model.  When he warned that he must suffer and die, “Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord!  This shall never happen to you,’” which prompted Christ’s own famous rebuke in response:

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”  Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:22-25)

Monday, May 9, 2022

End of semester open thread

Let’s start the summer break off right, with an open thread.  Now’s the time to get that otherwise off-topic obsession of yours off your chest, at long last.  From plunging stocks to Pet Rocks, from buying Twitter to Gary Glitter to sharing an Uber with Martin Buber, everything is on topic.  The usual rules of good taste and discretion apply.  Previous open threads archived here.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Benedict is not the pope: A reply to some critics

Patrick Coffin has posted an open letter by Italian writer Andrea Cionci, replying to my recent article criticizing Benevacantism.  What follows is a response.  In his introduction to the letter, Patrick objects to my use of the label “Benevacantism,” calling it a “nonsensical devil term”(!)  I can understand why he doesn’t like the word, because it is an odd one and doesn’t really make much sense.  But I didn’t come up with it.  I had to use some label to refer to the view, and chose “Benevacantism” simply because it seemed to be the one most widely used.  But Patrick prefers the label “Benedict is Pope” or “BiP” for short, so in what follows I’ll go along with that.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Socratic loyalty

Socrates was so critical of his country that he was put to death by it.  Yet he could have escaped execution had he wanted to.  The reason he did not, as he famously explained in Plato’s Crito, was out of loyalty to the country of which he was so critical, and which willed to destroy him.  I don’t think that Socrates’ example is, in this case, one that we are bound to follow; Aristotle did no wrong in fleeing, lest Athens sin twice against philosophy.  All the same, that example is worth pondering for contemporary conservatives tempted to oikophobia by the sorry state of the West, and for Catholics tempted by the sorry state of the Church’s human element to depart from her, or to refuse due submission to the Roman Pontiff. 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Fr. Gregory Pine on prudence

Modern moral philosophers typically have much to say about abstract principles, but are not of much help for the average person seeking concrete moral advice.  Self-help books, meanwhile, have practical relevance but are philosophically superficial.  One of the strengths of Aquinas’s ethics is that it is philosophically sophisticated while at the same time offering practical guidance to non-philosophers.  This is especially true of his treatment of the virtues.  But even Aquinas sometimes needs a bit of exposition to make him accessible to modern readers.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Whose pantheism? Which dualism? A Reply to David Bentley Hart


Over at Substack, David Bentley Hart has written an open letter in reply to my recent review, at
Public Discourse, of his book You Are Gods: On Nature and SupernatureWhat follows is my own open letter in response.  Before reading it, it would help if you’ve already read my review and Hart’s reply.

Hello David,

Many thanks for your enjoyable and vigorous rejoinder.  If your eyes fall on this, I know they will be rolling at the prospect of yet another round.  But I cannot resist a reply to what seem to me basic misunderstandings, along with crucial concessions disguised as rebuttals.  I do promise to refrain from Photoshop antics and cheap puns, for the sake of preserving our armistice and basic good taste.  Plus, I wouldn’t want any of your readers to spill their sherry. 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Tales from the Coffin

In my recent post criticizing Benevacantism, I deliberately avoided naming specific individuals, in the hope of preventing the debate from degenerating into a clash of personalities.  I also said: “I make no judgment here about the culpability of those drawn to this error, many of whom are well-meaning people understandably troubled by the state of the Church and the world.”  Unfortunately, not everyone is keen on keeping the discussion civil or focused on arguments and evidence.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Benevacantism is scandalous and pointless

In his book The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies, David Stove observes that an argument once given by philosopher of science Imré Lakatos “manages to be scandalous and pointless at the same time” (p. 8).  He was referring to Lakatos’s having made use of certain historical examples, some of the details of which Lakatos admitted he had made up himself.  The idea is that, as bad as dishonest scholarship is, worse still is defeating the whole purpose by admitting that that is what you are doing.  I put aside for present purposes the question of whether Stove’s characterization of Lakatos was actually fair.  What I’m interested in here is the general idea of a position that is simultaneously scandalous and pointless.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Two Harts beaten as one

At the blog Jesus and the Ancient Paths, PhD student Seth Hart defends his namesake David Bentley Hart against the objections I raised in my Public Discourse review of the latter Hart’s new book You Are Gods: On Nature and Supernature.  What follows is a response to the former Hart’s four lines of criticism.  In case you are wondering, the article informs us that there is no relation between the two Harts.  To avoid confusion, I’ll mostly refer to them as “S. Hart” and “D. B. Hart” in what follows.  I am, in any event, thrilled by the prospect of some new cringeworthy puns.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Touring the fifth circle

For readers who are wondering, yes, I’m on Twitter now.  (I’m not referring to the fan account that has been there for some time, but to my own personal account: @FeserEdward)  I confess to feeling somewhat unclean, since I have not changed my very low opinion of the medium.  The reason for signing up is simply to be able to see what is going on, and I don’t intend to be very active on it myself.  If I ever am, I ask my family and friends to stage an intervention.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Hart’s post-Christian pantheism

Well, kids, it’s that time again.  David Bentley Hart’s new book You Are Gods: On Nature and Supernature is now out.  So is my review, “David Bentley Hart’s Post-Christian Pantheism,” which you can read at Public Discourse.  As you will see, the title of my essay is not invective, but pretty much just a straightforward description of what’s in the book.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Unjust war and false masculinity

I commend to you three excellent articles by traditionalist Catholic scholars on the grave injustice of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: historian Roberto de Mattei’s “Russia's War and the Message of Fatima”; philosopher John Lamont’s “Putin’s Attack on Ukraine”; and theologian Pater Edmund Waldstein’s “The War in Ukraine in the Light of Just War Principles.”  There is a reason why I emphasize that the injustice is grave, as I have in my earlier commentary on the war.  Few among those who have expressed sympathy with the Russian side in the conflict have claimed that the invasion meets just war criteria (unsurprisingly, since it manifestly does not).  They have tended instead to emphasize Putin’s purported virtues and the vices of Zelensky and his Western supporters – as if these somehow balance out the destruction of cities and the deaths of thousands of human beings.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Conspiracy theories, spontaneous order, and the hermeneutics of suspicion


Nobody denies that conspiracies occur.  They happen every time two or more people collude in order to secure some malign end.  When people criticize “conspiracy theories,” it is a particular kind of conspiracy that they find implausible.  I’ve written several times before about some of the marks of conspiracy theories of this dubious kind.  They tend to be grounded in “narrative thinking” rather than a rigorous and dispassionate consideration of the merits and deficiencies of all alternative possible explanations.  They tend to violate Ockham’s razor, posit conspiracies that are too vast and complicated to be psychologically and sociologically feasible, and reflect naiveté about the way modern bureaucracies function.  The vastness of the posited conspiracy often has implications for the reliability of news media and other sources of information that make the theory epistemically self-defeating and unfalsifiable.  (For simplicity’s sake, from here on out I’ll use the expression “conspiracy theories” to refer, specifically, to theories having vices like these – acknowledging, again, that there are conspiracies of a more plausible kind, and thus conspiracy theories of a more plausible kind.)

Monday, March 14, 2022

Chomsky’s “propaganda model” of mass media

A common mistake people make when evaluating a theory is to fail to keep in mind the distinction between the theory itself, its application to particular cases, and the auxiliary assumptions an advocate of the theory makes when developing that application.  People will often reject a theory because they find some particular application problematic, where if they thought about the matter more carefully they would see that the problem is only with that application and/or with the auxiliary assumptions, and not with the theory itself.